Becoming a Gift Detective {and a Target gift card giveaway}

Figuring out what your kids *really* want by becoming a Gift Detective ::: #MyKindofHoliday

Note: I”m a member of the Target Inner Circle and Target provided the gift card for this post.

At our house we keep gift giving simple by using Want, Need, Wear, Read as our gift guide.  The need, wear, and read are usually pretty straight forward, but the want can be difficult to figure out.

My kids, and I suspect some of your children, have no problem at all rattling off a gift list when asked.  Sometimes my kids will want something and we know about it for months ahead of time and that makes it easy to shop for them.

The tricky part is when the items on a child”s wish list change constantly.  Depending on the day, their mood, or most recent commercial influences, or what cool things they saw at a friend”s house, sometimes  their most wanted item changes.  It is hard to know exactly what to give them in the face of such indecisiveness.

Or maybe one of your kids is like my daughter Jillian was when she was a preschooler and knew exactly what she wanted but wouldn”t spill the beans to anyone but Santa himself.

Because we keep it simple, I want to make sure that their wanted item is something that they really want and I need to keep the secret from being discovered until Christmas morning.  This is where the fine art of being a gift detective comes in.

Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is do to some intelligence gathering and 1) find our what your kids really want and 2) keep it a secret until Christmas.

Become a Gift Detective ::: #MyKindofHoliday

Becoming a Gift Detective

Target has asked Jonna Mendez, a former CIA intelligence officer with more than 25 years of service, to share some of her tips to help moms and dads and grandparents this holiday season.

A mother and a grandmother, Jonna has an impressive resume:

  • Last held Chief of Disguise position at the CIA

  • Her duties included preparation of the CIA’s most highly placed foreign assets in the use of spy cameras and the processing of the intelligence gathered by them

  • Co-author of “Spy Dust,” a book about Jonna and her husband’s (Tony Mendez, inspiration for Ben Affleck’s character in Argo) work in Moscow during the last decade of the Cold War

I”m borrowing a few tips from Jonna and you can, too!


Kids’ Gift Detective Technique: Covert Observation

Definition: Observation uses biometrics, or the science and technology of measuring and analyzing biological data, such as body language and pokies online facial expressions, to decipher subjects’ unintentional clues.

Kids’ Gift Detective Tip: As you go about your normal routine, observe your kids’ faces and their posture. For example, gauge their reactions to the gifts featured in Target’s Kids” Gift List , known as open source material.

When their eyes dilate, their faces light up, they naturally sit up straight and tall and their body language opens up, this serves as a clue that they are very interested in something. When they are not interested, they will sink down in their seats or even cross their arms.

You can also listen to changes in their speech pattern, specifically their tone and pitch – when they’re excited about something, their tone will become lighter, the pitch of their voice will be higher and they will talk faster.


Gift Detective Technique: Access Agents

Taking another page from Jonna”s detective play book, as mentioned on A Bullseye View, this mom asked her oldest daughter (and favorite Santa”s helper) to be her eyes and ears.  If Jillian hears one of her siblings mention something they hope Santa will bring them this year, she reports back to me – “hey, mom, I heard Max say he wants those Marvel Universe guys again.”

It helps to have an agent under cover on the inside.  And, she”s proven her worth as an agent by using her skills in the field to report back to me regarding Daddy”s holiday wish list, too.


Kids’ Gift Detective Tip: Covert Shopping

My kids are almost always with me when I”m shopping, so it can be tricky to purchase gifts for them.  My personal preference is to enlist the help of a special agent babysitter to watch the kids so I can shop alone.

But, if back up isn”t available to facilitate a solo shopping trip, Jonna offers this tip:  while shopping, indulge your kids with a stroll down the toy aisle. As they interact and point out toys they like, you can easily pull out your smartphone and use the Target app to make a purchase right there in the toy aisle without them ever knowing it.

Kids’ Gift Detective Covert Shopping Tip #2: Enlist your kids in the shopping fun and do a good deed.

Want a sneaky way to find out exactly what your kids want for the holidays while also shopping for a good cause? Shop with your kids for gifts to donate to a local charity, and have them pick out the toys to donate.

Your kids will love scanning the aisles for their favorite items, shopping for the other kids and you can get some gift ideas, like I did when my five year old daughter insisted that she knew the kids would love a Sofia the First doll.

Drop off items you bought for your local charity and keep your cover in tact once you get home by ordering items for your family online.

Gift Detective :::

Thanks Jonna!  Now the only tricky part is figuring out how to hide the gifts until Christmas morning I”d love to hear from my Simple Kids readers:  how do YOU keep holiday gifts hidden, and surprises from being blown, at your house?

The Giveaway

One lucky Simple Kids reader and gift detective will win a $25 gift card from Target to help you with your holiday shopping.

This giveaway will end at midnight EST, December 13, 2013.  Open to US residents only.  Thanks and good luck!

To Enter

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Find more Gift Detective Tips, including Santa”s Secret Ink, at A Bullseye View. Target invites you to share pictures of your gift detective work on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook with the hashtag #MyKindofHoliday.


Note: the kids and I had a great time hamming it up for these photos, but you should know that no wish lists or holiday secrets were compromised in the making of this post. And, big thanks to my daughter Jillian for taking some of the pictures in this post and for being my ace detective!

About Kara

Kara Fleck is the editor of Simple Kids. She is a small town mama, writer, knitter, bookworm, and hooligan. Kara lives in Indiana with her husband Christopher and their four children Jillian, Max, Lucy, and Amelia. You can find more of her writing at

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  1. I keep gifts in a bin in the garage or on high shelves in the laundry room. My parents always had room in the corner of the basement where gifts were kept. Around the holidays, they would cover the opening to the room with bed sheets. They told us if we went in there it would ruin our surprise. I think we went in once in all the years.

  2. Kristin Thomas says:

    If we can’t figure out what a child might REALLY want, we can usually resort to saying that grandma wants to know what they would like and then they usually spill the beans.

  3. Kristina Best says:

    I make a list of what the boys say they want all year. Then I go off of that.

  4. My kids love going through the ads (target is the favorite!) and circling the things they like. I remember loving the sears catalog as a kid. This year it totally backfired, as they managed to circle 90% of the items in the catalog! My 4 year old is thankfully rattling off his favorite wish every 2 hours now, but my older son is a total mystery. He even wrote a letter to Santa without much pizzaz – I felt like I was forcing him to write items on the list.
    Next up my sleeve: the visit to Santa itself. I’m planning on “forgetting” their previously written letters, so they have to tell Santa what they really want instead of reading off the “pizazz-less” list.
    First world problems! =)


  6. They make a list.

  7. I asked my kids to write their letters to Santa so I could see what they wanted. I also take them to Target and let them play in the toy aisles to get an idea about what they want to play with.

  8. I look at the letter to Santa

  9. great ideas! my son has a friend that celebrates hanukkah so that helps since it’s usually earlier.

  10. My son is a seven. It’s pretty easy to know what he wants because he tells us!

  11. Love this, especially the photos! Thank goodness my daughter’s still too young to really know she’s getting gifts, but the guessing game is still hard! We just adopted the Want, Need, Wear, Read philosophy as well this year and I love it!
    Emily´s latest post: Never would I ever …

  12. my kids are not shy about mentioning what they would like lol

  13. watch for repetition and what they bring up spontaneously, not just round the toy store.

  14. I listen to my grandkids all year and make notes of what they would like

  15. I always look at the list to Santa and what they tell me throughout the year

  16. My son isn’t old enough yet to communicate what he wants but we know he loves drums because that is what he does all day long… any surface!

  17. good ideas about listening for tone of voice and looking for body language clues.

  18. I give my kids the target/toys r us catalog, and then see what gets them excited!

  19. We visit toy stores to play with the things in there the month before Christmas. When I let them look through the catalogs, they always pick the strangest things and I’m pretty sure they would never play with them. Seeing things in person is much more fun, too. But I try to think of my kids opening that present on Christmas morning and what exactly would thrill them. A lot of the time, it’s not even something that was on their list.

  20. Lisa Jennings says:

    Our oldest loves looking through the ads. We just sat down the other day and went to the Target gift idea thing online.

  21. We look at things together and talk and I listen to see if it is what interests them. My daughter loves art so usually center things around art/crafts for her.

  22. Fun post! I usually listen and take notes, mental or otherwise through the year, that way when Christmas rolls around, some things can be a surprise.

  23. My kids tell me exactly what they want. I then just pick the 1 or 2 items off of the list.

  24. I usually hide gifts on the craft/spare room room closet shelf or inside some old moving boxes in the corner of the closet. My kids are still too young to really look around for gifts, but it also helps that the room is pretty messy so it keeps them out!

  25. We hide ours in the scary dark part of the basement behind the furnace. The kids won’t venture there!

  26. We set up amazon wish lists – so the kids wishes can be easily deduced

  27. i just listen to what they talk to their cousins about.

  28. Conversations in the car on the way to school is way to find out.

  29. I set up secret boards on pinterest!

  30. I try to just keep a list throughout the year; when I notice something that they would like or they mention something, I write it down on a memo on my phone.

  31. We keep our gifts at my husband’s office. Safe from prying eyes!

  32. catalogs! :) thanks for the giveaway!

  33. rayraycartucci says:

    Loved all the gift detective pics….CUTE! My only child is autistic so to get him to tell me what he wants I have to make suggestions every day for months…finally he will agree to something. This year he wants a swing and a tent. We got the tent…working on getting a swing!

  34. Love, love all of your adorable pictures! Our biggest challenge is not having the littlest elf give all of our secrets away!
    Jennifer´s latest post: Experience the Joy of Singing Even in Unexpected Ways

  35. Allison Downes says:

    I usually just have them make a list

    Thank you for the nice giveaway!

  36. Throughout the year I keep a running list of who wants what. As things come up in conversation or I see someone who has a specific need I write it down in a specific place. That way I can also keep my eyes peeled for good deals throughout the year rather than just at Christmas time.
    Anne´s latest post: Wrapping Up December and Looking Forward to 2014

  37. I just listen to them when they are talking to their friends or watching t.v. Or even when we go shopping.
    Digicats {at} Sbcglobal {dot} Net

  38. I keep notes year-round of what they’d like! If they happen to mention it, etc.

  39. Kara that’s a cool idea
    detective agency in delhi´s latest post: Cyber Investigation Service by Apache Detectives

  40. My children 7 and under have no problem sharing what they want for Christmas. The question is what to do when it’s not in the budget or is something you don’t want in the house (like video games) Right now it’s pretty easy to hide gifts, but I’m sure that will change as they get older.

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